Many people think identifying domestic abuse is about bruises and injuries instead of secretive, sinful, controlling behavior. When that’s the case, we fail to notice the slipping away, the slow fading, of one individual in a relationship. We notice, but get distracted. We wonder, but don’t ask. We forget and move on.
What you see in public is only a fraction of what’s going on in private. Behaviors that protect my-way-or-the-highway, no-matter what, at-the-expense-of-others, are often unseen and unaddressed. They’re not new. In fact, they’re almost as old as dirt.
In a lament service recently, Brad Bigney addressed racism and his words echo a godly response to coercive control and domestic abuse as well. Read them with an ear to hidden evil in our society, churches, homes, and families:
“Until we stop being defensive and are able to recognize and own up to the fact, the sad fact, that the evil… is still alive and well in many forms throughout our land, there will be little or no hope for genuine understanding and reconciliation….. a big step toward being an ally—I want to be an ally against racism; I want our church family to be an ally against racism—is to talk less and listen more to the experience of others and trust them that what they’re saying is real, what they’re saying is current, and what they’re saying is very painful.”
As Old as the Hills
If you’re skeptical about power plays and abuse, check out these ploys–from the book of Nehemiah–that have been around for centuries. As you read, remember that Nehemiah was a leader being bullied by men of equal power. In marriage, especially our churches, the person being threatened and coerced has less power –in the relationship, church and society–and fewer resources. Like Nehemiah, she is isolated in a desolate, difficult situation. Many times children are involved and, though she is trying to protect them as well as herself, Sanballat and Tobiah are given free reign without consequence:
- Power/Control is threatened: “Then I [Nehemiah] came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.” (Nehemiah 2:9-10)
All it takes to start the ball rolling is someone not doing it “my way,”–a bad day at the office, frustration, discouragement, fear–anything that is “very displeasing.”
- Sinful, manipulative behaviors follow:
- Mocking, despising: “But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, “What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” (Nehemiah 2:19)
i.e. “Who do you think you are?” “How dare you?”
- Belittling, calling names, intimidating: “Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” (Nehemiah 4:1-3)
- Threatening physical violence: “Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it.” (Nehemiah 4:7-8)
- Stalking, threats of stealth, repeatedly whispering threats to for the purpose of creating fear: “Our enemies said, ‘They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.’ …the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, ‘They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,'” (Nehemiah 4:11-12)
- Manipulating, repeated cloys, gas-lighting: “Now when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates, then Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, ‘Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.’ But they were planning to harm me…. They sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way.” (Nehemiah 6:1-2)
i.e. “I was kidding. Let’s work it out.”
- Blaming, lying, threatening, falsifying information, creating rumors: “Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. You have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘A king is in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together.” (Nehemiah 6:5-7)
- Creating and using allies to create fear and manipulate sinful behavior: “When I entered the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined at home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you at night.” But I said, “Should a man like me flee? And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.” Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered his prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that they might have an evil report in order that they could reproach me. (Nehemiah 6:10-13)
- Using relationships to deflect blame and cover threats of violence, creating obligation in others, using them as spies, coercing: “…in those days many letters went from the nobles of Judah to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. Moreover, they were speaking about his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. Then Tobiah sent letters to frighten me. (Nehemiah 6:17-19)
To quote Nehemiah, “Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity (4:4); But now, O God, strengthen my hands (6:9); Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, (6:14)…”
May we, the people of God, be on guard against those who use sinful means to fulfill their desires, attack their insecurities, and tear down the humanity of others.